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TAOISEACH TOLD: SEND THEM BACK; Bertie under Colombia 3 pressure.

Byline: By SINEAD KING

BERTIE Ahern was coming under huge pressure last night to hand over three Irish men convicted of training Marxist rebels in Colombia.

The so-called Colombia Three arrived at an undisclosed location this week - eight months after they were convicted in their absence of training FARC guerrillas.

It only emerged that the three had resurfaced in Ireland after a surprise TV interview with one of the fugitives on RTE.

But Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said yesterday that the Taoiseach had a "legal and moral obligation" to send the three men back even though the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

The fate of the trio - whose whereabouts are unknown - will be decided by senior state judges, an Irish government minister said yesterday.

Marine minister Noel Dempsey said Dublin judges would study the case but added the Irish government had received no formal extradition request.

Niall Connolly, James Monaghan and Martin McCauley had been missing since last December after an appeal court reversed their original acquittal and sentenced them to 17 years in prison for training rebel FARC guerrillas.

The Irish government, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and one of the men denied there was any deal to allow them home after last week's IRA statement announcing an end to its campaign.

An Irish government spokesman said: "This issue was not part of the government's discussions with Sinn Fein and we had no prior knowledge of their return to Ireland."

But politicians north and south of the border have asked for a full explanation from the Irish government as to how the men returned to the country.

Fine Gael opposition party leader Enda Kenny demanded an immediate statement from the Taoiseach and Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell on the circumstances surrounding the men's return.He also called on the Irish government to clarify if the return was part of negotiations between it and Sinn Fein in the run up to the IRA statement.

Irish Green Party whip Dan Boyle said the surprise re-appearance of the Colombia Three demanded answers on whether their return had been discussed in advance, whether extradition would be considered and whether any prosecution would follow in Ireland over the use of illegal Irish passports.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson, called on Mr Ahern to hand the men over to the Colombian authorities, claiming they were intricately involved in the global terrorist network.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams welcomed the men's return to Ireland as "a great relief" and said he hoped "they can now get on with their lives."

CAPTION(S):

PRESSURE: Bertie Ahern; HOME: Martin McCauley, Niall Connolly, James Monaghan
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Aug 7, 2005
Words:440
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